by Michael G. Azar
Desires for international peace which do not comprehend a state of international justice…are nothing else but a participation in international crime.
Orthodox Americans continue to struggle deeply with the issues raised in these words, as illustrated by the recent conflict in Iraq. In general, Orthodox Christians agree that international peace and international justice remain necessities at the very core of Christian teaching, but, as the recent war indicates, Orthodox Americans have diverged over which path remains best to take when pursuing a state of international justice and international peace. These diverging patterns warrant some reflection.
Reason and Methodology
The proper relationship between faith and politics is constantly becoming a quandary of increasing importance to Orthodox Christians in the United States as they become more imbedded into the sociopolitical discourse of this country. Since September 11, 2001, Christians of all traditions have progressively struggled to use the teachings of their faith to speak out both for and against the foreign endeavors of the Bush Administration. Orthodox Americans have joined in this struggle as well, particularly in the recent controversy surrounding the war in Iraq, as is evident by the actions of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (OPF) in the opening months of 2003 and the subsequent reaction from Orthodox Americans. In January 2003, the OPF issued a statement that called on the United States to seek a path other than military strikes on Iraq. This statement found many impassioned responses from Orthodox Americans, both in praise and condemnation. Centered on the OPF statement and the subsequent reaction, this essay explores both how Orthodox Americans thought about the recent war and the conclusions many of them reached. In short, this essay investigates how some Orthodox Americans have expressed their faith in politics and politics in their faith.
This project is not intended to be a comprehensive study; thus, in my research, I did not conduct a formal and complete survey. I simply gathered opinions about the war and related issues from various Orthodox Americans. The pattern of research that I followed has become the outline for the essay below: I explored the history of the OPF, issues of war and peace in the Orthodox tradition, and then the OPF Iraq Appeal itself. Subsequently, I researched three articles that were published in response to the statement together with responses to these articles from OPF members. Eventually, I sent a list of survey questions about the issues at hand to people I contacted personally and to three discussion groups: the OPF’s email list, the popular Orthodox discussion list on the Indiana listserv, and www.orthodoxchristianity.net. I originally intended to include more information from the responses I received, together with a more thorough summary of the opinions expressed, but I eventually came to focus mainly on one response, for reasons discussed below.
The History of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Our fellowship exists to give witness that peacemaking is something absolutely ordinary. It is an integral part of everyday life. It has to do with how we pray, for whom we pray, how we listen, how we speak, what we do with our anger and frustration, our willingness to forgive, and our attempts to serve as a bridge between those who hate each other.
–Jim Forest, OPF Secretary
The OPF has been founded twice: The first was during the Vietnam War, and the second, which led to its present form, was in 1986. Its history goes back to Mariquita Quita, whose own personal history is a research project in itself. In 1962, while residing in Nyack, NY, she joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), which was founded during World War I as an association of people from various churches and religious traditions who shared a commitment not to take part in war and instead committed themselves to nonviolent work to overcome the causes of war. One key member was Martian Luther King Jr.
In 1968, she crossed paths with two recent graduates of St. Vladimir’s Seminary: Fr. John Townsend and Fr. Stephen Plumlee, and with the support of FOR with whom they became increasingly acquainted, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship was founded, modeled after FOR. Nevertheless, for many reasons, including the failure to obtain hierarchical approval and the uneasiness that the antiwar movement and the notion of conscientious objection caused among the St. Vladimir’s faculty, the OPF waned in its infant years. As Jim Forest, the current secretary of the OPF, notes,
While all the details of the OPF’s collapse in the first round are not clear, what is obvious is that, although Orthodox Christians in the US were increasingly disturbed by the war in Vietnam, there wasn’t yet enough of a consensus about how best to respond to the issue of war for an Orthodox peace group to take root, especially if conscientious objection to war was obligatory for its members.
In 1986, the OPF was reborn, and its members drafted a statement of purpose. Footnote Jim Forest took charge in 1989, and one of his concerns was the creation of an advisory board mainly composed of clergy from various jurisdictions: “This was undertaken,” he comments, “both because we saw the need for guidance and also so that it would be clear that OPF is rooted in the universal Church — not simply one segment of the Church — and has the support of a number of highly respected people.” The first hierarch to join the advisory board was Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia.
The major tasks of OPF, as formulated in the past decade include many elements: publications, such as their journal In Communion; theological research; Footnote encouraging the formation of local, national, and regional OPF groups; practical assistance in areas of conflict; the organizing of OPF lectures and retreats; representing a consistent pro-life ethic; and speaking out on matters of controversy, concerning which Forest notes,
We do little of this but a recent example was the OPF Iraq Appeal, written when war with Iraq seemed increasingly likely. It was signed by many bishops, priests and lay people and was corroborated by independent statements issued by Orthodox Churches and individual hierarchs around the world. It continues to stir valuable discussion in the Orthodox community.
The remainder of the present essay will explore the valuable discussion that this appeal has since spurred.
War and Peace in Orthodoxy: A Brief Note
I supported and do support the war. My stand is based on a lifetime of living my faith and loving my country. I add to such faith and life experience knowledge regarding the Bible and Church Fathers.
–Teresa, Orthodox Christian Mission Center
I opposed going to war with Iraq…. I believe that the Savior’s teachings are clear. I also believe that the Church’s traditional stance is valid. The righteous cannot be aggressors. We have the right to defend ourselves and our homeland, but not invade another based on flimsy evidence.
–Archpriest in the Orthodox Church in America
I was and am a supporter of the Iraqi war based on the doctrine of preemption. Sadly the Orthodox Church provided me with no clear moral compass with regard to the war.
–George, layperson of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America
In the discussions among Orthodox Americans following the release of the OPF Iraq Appeal, frequent reference was made to the Orthodox Church and its historical stance toward war. In my research, I intended to include information about war and peace in the tradition of the Orthodox Church, but I soon found this to be a task outside of my reach. Therefore, I have included only a few brief notes about the topic.
Whether or not the Orthodox Church has historically held a favorable stance toward war, be it temporal or eternal, remains a highly disputed question. Nevertheless, Orthodox authors do have one statement of acquiescence: The Orthodox Church has never had any tradition of a “Just War Theory” as in the West. In addition, of all the historical sources to which people have appealed in order to support their positions, Canon 13 of the “canonical epistles ” of St. Basil the Great remains the most frequently cited:
Our fathers did not reckon killings in war as murders, but granted pardon, it seems to me, to those fighting in defense of virtue and piety. Perhaps, however, it is advisable that, since their hands are not clean, they should abstain from communion alone for a period of three years.
In discourses covering war and peace in Orthodoxy, this quote from St. Basil has become the focus of more exegesis than the Bible itself.
With those brief points being made, I have provided two sources in the bibliography for further exploration into the issue: (1)
An Orthodox Peace Witness? (2001) by John Erickson and (2)
Justifiable War as a ‘Lesser Good’ in Eastern Orthodox Moral Tradition (2003) by Alexander Webster. One must keep in mind when reading these sources that John Erickson was a signer of the OPF Iraq Appeal and Alexander Webster was an outspoken critic.
OPF Iraq Appeal
I found [the OPF Iraq Appeal] to be more uninformed dribble from anti-war people. To be honest I found it disturbing. How do you propose we get rid of Saddam? What do you think of those mass graves over there? That’s what inaction does! I’m against the war because we went for lies not for the just cause of killing an evil tyrant. Evil must be confronted not talked with or scolded with a harsh word. I will not sign that list!
–Glen, layperson of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, veteran of first Gulf War
The OPF statement — like most statements — was good but not perfect given the imprecision of the English language. Its scope was limited to condemning the pre-emptive war against Iraq and the inevitable consequences of that war…. Many of us would support the defense of our earthly homeland, but I think it safe to say very few of us felt this pre-emptive attack was wise or in keeping with the principles of international law, let alone the Gospel of Christ…
–Greg, member of OPF
I cannot believe that so many fine people signed on to a statement that demonstrates so little thinking that it could be mistaken as the musings of indoctrinated college students.
–Anonymous Orthodox priest in the United States
I put my name to [the OPF statement] early on and I still stand by it. It is eloquent and thoroughly Orthodox.
–John, Reader in Orthodox Church in America
Appendix 2 contains the OPF Iraq Appeal in full, thus it is unnecessary to include it at length here; it is also web posted at www.incommunion.org. However, I will highlight four particular lines in the OPF statement that produced an important amount of critical response:
1: “As Orthodox Christians, we seek the conversion of enemies to friends in Christ. Saddam Hussein is an enemy of the United States and of the people of Iraq, but we declare that there are better ways to respond to terrorism than to respond in kind.”
2: “The United States is ready to overthrow him by any means…”
3: “…the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good…”
4: “…fighting an elusive enemy by any means which cause the death of innocent people can be regarded only as murder…”
These comments spurred more controversy than any other portions of the statement. In the months following the release of this statement, Orthodox Internet discussion sites witnessed ever-increasing criticism directed toward the statement, the OPF in general, and even Jim Forest himself. As one person comments,
OPF statement is egregiously simplistic, unsophisticated, uninformed, inaccurate, misleading, ideologically skewed, deeply offensive to men and women in the U.S. armed forces, not truly reflective of our own Orthodox moral tradition, irresponsible, and spiritually dangerous — irrespective of who happens to have signed it…. In short, I consider the OPF Statement on Iraq a new low in the OPF’s public moral witness, and I pledge to oppose it and the dubious ideology that it represents with all the moral means at my disposal.
To say the least, the statement produced a strong reaction: In summary, the countless posts that Orthodox Americans made to the Internet sites include these basic critiques (respective to the numbering above):
1. The statement accuses US intervention of being equivalent to terrorism.
2. The statement suggests that the US will be willing to use unreasonable and unrestrained means against Saddam Hussein.
3. The statement untruthfully notes that the Orthodox Church has never taken a favorable stance toward war in the past.
4. The statement identifies US soldiers as murderers.
Each of these criticisms frequented the published responses to the OPF Iraq Appeal as well.
Three Published Responses
Francis Schaffer “Stripped of Spiritual Comfort”
In this article (first published in the April 6, 2003 issue of the Washington Post), Francis Schaffer describes the state of tension in which he lives: He has a son who has been deployed to Iraq, but he no longer finds comfort in the Greek Orthodox Church of which he is a member. It saddens him that the OPF Iraq Appeal calls “all soldiers who kill in battle murderers, no matter what the cause…” It also accuses “our country of using ‘any means’ to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The authors are entitled to their own opinions, notes Schaffer, but what is disconcerting to him is the fact that so many Orthodox bishops and priests had signed the statement. “They have dragged not only my church but Jesus into their stand against our government and the war in Iraq,” and he continues,
It is cruel to try to hijack the authority of a church to advance political views for or against this war. I would never sign a letter for a “Council for the Orthodox Pro-War Fellowship” just because my son is serving his country in the military. I’d assume that it would be preposterous for me to speak for my fellow Orthodox Christians on such matters of individual conscience, over which honest and honorable people can disagree.
Given his Church’s failure to provide him with support, Schaffer sympathizes with Roman Catholic families who have sons and daughters in the military, and those of the mainline Protestant tradition as well, because so many of their church leaders also have condemned the war and the commander in chief. “I don’t see my son as a murderer. I don’t see my country as evil. I see my country and my son’s cause as just. But maybe I’m wrong. If I’m wrong I don’t want to drag God down with me” — something he undoubtedly believes the OPF has done. Finally, he concludes, “My son is gone to war. I am sad and frightened. I am also proud of my Marine for his selfless service. But I am being stripped of the comfort of my church in the name of ‘peace’ by people who seem determined to make God as small as we are.”
Jim Forest wrote a response to this article in which he expressed his sympathy for the way Schaffer was feeling with a son at war, but he defended the OPF statement saying that the only person that the OPF Iraq Appeal called a murderer was Saddam Hussein. The only other reference to murderers was about those who kill innocent people. “It is one thing to say that killing innocent people is a grave sin — the sin of murder,” writes Forest, “and another to label those caught up in the war as murderers. We did not do so.” He says that the OPF’s basis for the use of “murderers” was the principle of “hate the sin and love the sinner,” and he provides an example: If he and his wife had a daughter who had an abortion, they would lament the decision, perhaps even be angry at the Church for calling abortion murder, but in time they would need “the Church to be plainspoken about the sanctity of life and to do all in its power to inspire its members not to kill the innocent.” Nevertheless, this explanation did not suffice for the numerous Orthodox Americans who continued to be increasingly opposed to the OPF and their defense of the statement. As one person writes, ” [Mr. Forest's] explanation is most welcome, although…we wonder if he really means it. But let’s assume at this point that he does, and merely fault the OPF for drafting careless language.” Many other responses were less kind.
Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse “‘A Plea for Peace’ Flawed by Moral Equivalency”
“[The] OPF has tried to sway public policy before but held back on explaining their views in any systematic way,” writes Jacobse, “[but a] ‘Plea for Peace’ is more comprehensive. It reveals OPF draws deeply from the ideology of the secular peace movement — so much so that the two are often indistinguishable.” Jacobse’s first example of this is the OPF’s statement that there are better ways to respond to Saddam Hussein than to “respond in kind”:
Respond in kind? This is moral equivalency at work. The doctrine of moral equivalency holds that war is the greatest of all evils. Any government engaged in warfare shares the same moral culpability for the conflict as its enemy. A just war is a moral impossibility…”A Plea for Peace” asserts that American action in Iraq is morally equivalent to the terror of the Saddam’s regime. Reports of the brutality of Saddam’s regime prove that OPF is wrong, but don’t expect them to change. Peace activists rarely abandon the doctrine even when the judgment of history is against them.
He then goes on to criticize the religious leaders who are “particularly susceptible to the ideology:” He notes that clergymen were part of the movement to appease Germany before World War II; liberal Protestant churches were apologists for the North Vietnamese, and Soviet Russia manipulated the World Council of Churches: “‘A Plea for Peace’ continues in this tradition.”
Quoting from the OPF Iraq Appeal, Jacobse asserts that moral equivalency shaped its conclusion that there was no difference between the American soldier and murder. “The facts prove otherwise,” he continues, “American military action in Iraq was conducted to avoid the deaths of innocent people…but facts don’t matter here.” He suggests that peace movements themselves contribute to the instability that creates war because “their moral equivocation blinds them to real evil in the world,” and in fact they kill more innocent people than otherwise would die during wartime: “Their ideology has contributed to the death of millions. Iraqi civilians cheered the American soldiers because they brought real liberation from real terror. American soldiers emptied the Iraqi jails, not the peace activists. Let these Iraqis be their judge, not OPF.”
Jacobse states that the OPF’s most serious error is its assertion that the Orthodox Church has never regarded any war as just or good. Drawing on St. Basil’s canon (see above), he states that the OPF’s assertion that the Orthodox Church does not accept a just war is “a transparent attempt to join the ideology of the peace movement to the Orthodox moral tradition.” Thus, he concludes suggesting that the Orthodox leaders who signed the OPF Iraq Appeal substituted ideology in the place of moral reason, thereby equating the two: “They should remove their signatures to clear the confusion they have created.”
Jacobse’s article contains many problems that warranted numerous responses from OPF members. His logic is flawed when he accuses the OPF of using “moral equivalency” because his negative reaction to the phenomenon is to repeat the same mistake. Rather than rectify the OPF’s use of moral equivalency, he proceeds to equate the recent peace movement with terrorism. His statement that the ideology of the peace movement has contributed to the death of millions is simply unrealistic, and, in presenting such an assertion, he paints peace activists as murders with the same brush that he accuses the OPF using to paint American soldiers. In addition, one must note that Jacobse does not quote from the second half of St. Basil’s canon, which asserts that soldiers’ hands are not clean and suggests that they abstain from communion. Rather, he simply quotes the first half in such a way that it appears that St. Basil’s canon merely states that soldiers do nothing wrong in war. Jacobse shapes the Orthodox tradition in the same manner for which he censures the OPF.
Fr. Patrick Reardon “Not So Quiet on the Eastern Front”
Fr. Reardon’s article appears to seek competition with the opinions expressed in the OPF statement in the marketplace of American religious thought. It shows that there were, in fact, Orthodox Americans who supported the war, in case Americans were prone to think all Orthodox opposed the Iraq war. He asserts that Schafer’s article was an example of the feelings of many Orthodox Americans when the OPF statement was released and also notes that the number of bishops that signed the OPF statement was relatively small. In the opening words of the article, Reardon states that no religious group was more deeply divided than the Orthodox, and he asserts that he will not take a position on the war but will merely examine the conflicting ways in which Orthodox understood the war — a promise he does not keep in the article.
Traditionally, Reardon notes, the OPF has historically demonstrated an
ascetical dimension, disciplined in tone, modest in aim, and circumspect in language. Even on those occasions when it directly addressed political concerns, it refrained from intruding itself into the ambiguities and complexities of the political process. As far as memory serves, the OPF never before essayed to garner signatures of support for a political statement.
However, the OPF’s pronouncement against the impending war in Iraq, particularly its choice of the term “murder,” represented a distinct departure from these patterns, and he stresses that the unintentional killing of innocent civilians in war has never been regarded by the Orthodox Church “only as murder.” He suggests that such an organization as the OPF, committed to peace, when they make such statements, should “avoid unwarranted descriptions that lead to further strife”—a task at which it failed.
Nonetheless, Reardon does offer one positive comment about the OPF Iraq Appeal:
Notwithstanding its exaggeration in language and ineptitude in logic, however, I do believe that the antiwar pronouncement of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship did achieve one positive and profitable result. It provided a needed target at which to aim the annoyance and frustration that some Orthodox Christians felt about the opposition of their church leaders to the Iraqi war.
Reardon then discusses the statistics of popular opinion, noting that most Americans supported the war, and, while no formal survey of the Orthodox reaction exists, he says most Orthodox probably opposed the war, for three main reasons: (1) Many Orthodox Christians are from the Middle East; (2) Others come from areas that have experienced an uneasy relationship with the American military (i.e. the Balkans), and (3) The East has never glorified war as has the West, let alone having a definite Just War Theory. Despite these factors, however, Reardon explains that many Orthodox Americans supported the war for many of the same reasons as the rest of the American public: self-defense against an aggressor, the liberation on an oppressed people, the extension of a free government to another nation, and so on.
Reardon then takes a surprising turn in his article and begins to hypothetically defend the war in Iraq by asking the rhetorical question, so what if the war was about oil? “The economic well-being of the human race right now is inseparable from the steady flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, for the domestic, industrial, and commercial maintenance of the wealth that keeps people alive.” His arguments and rhetoric that follow reflect something similar to what one would find among non-Orthodox Americans that supported the Iraq war. In this manner, Reardon’s article retreats from a simple survey of Orthodox responses to the war and becomes a near pro-war (or at least anti-antiwar) statement.
Summarizing what troubled so many Orthodox Americans when the OPF statement was released, he states,
If the Lord of history had indeed laid such responsibility on this nation [to preserve world stability and the well-being of mankind], and if occasional recourse to arms was required to meet that responsibility, then a pacifist ethic could not be a central and major guiding theory of American life…. During this past winter and spring, therefore, it seemed to those Orthodox Christians that their spiritual leaders, who had for decades been exhorting them to get out there and “make America Orthodox,” were implicitly retreating from that exhortation.
Continuing, he gathers a “model from tradition” in order to show that the Orthodox Church has never approved of pacifism, and, in doing so, he further departs from his original goal of surveying Orthodox Americans’ feelings toward the war. He admits that there may have been supporters of pacifism within the Byzantine Empire, but they “enjoyed the freedom to do so because other Christians took up the sword to protect them.” Finally, he concludes equating those who honorably sustained peace in the Byzantine Empire with the current American military.
The Survey and a Response
The survey questions that I released on the Internet discussion groups mentioned above returned many helpful responses. As I stated earlier, I originally intended to include more information from the responses I received and a more thorough summary of the opinions expressed. However, a week before I completed my research I received a response from Fr. John, a military chaplain currently serving in Kuwait. His response was the most balanced, and he provided me with more information than I had expected. In addition, since he is an Orthodox military chaplain, I believe his comments are particularly pertinent. Thus, I have narrowed my study of responses to this one person (though I must note that all the other responses have shaped my understanding of the issues at hand and the composition of this essay).
“It may surprise you,” begins Fr. John, “that I start with some kind words to say about the OPF and the positions they take, even the one on the Iraqi war.” Because the Scriptures and tradition of the Orthodox Church uphold peaceful resistance to evil as the ideal, he believes that the OPF “articulates a vital part of the Holy Tradition and its teaching on warfare, which should have always been heard and carefully considered. All that I write is with that in mind.” With that said, Fr. John uses the New Testament, the liturgy, and the history of the Orthodox Church, to explain that, while the Church has never favored war, it has never had room for pacifism. Reflecting on the Just War Theory as it is known in the West, he notes that Eastern Christians have always been less systematic and scholastic in their approach to issues of morality; rather, they have tended to follow the pastoral guidance provided by bishops. His following example elucidates this point:
Our bishops, especially when they speak together, set the ethical course for all of us. In the Orthodox Church in America, our Holy Synod made a pronouncement when the Iraqi war was only in its second day. His Beatitude Herman, on behalf of the Holy Synod, wrote an Archpastoral Message which pled eloquently for prayer and fasting for our soldiers, for our political leaders, for the war’s innocent victims, for a speedy end to the hostilities, and for a lasting and just peace in the Middle East. In the Orthodox tradition, they prayed for peace as the ideal, and regretted the present condition of war. But they did not imply that Orthodox soldiers participating in the Iraqi war are murderers, or call them to abandon their arms. We Orthodox soldiers could take great comfort in the words our hierarchs in that dark hour. In fairness to the OPF, I contacted them and they told me they did not mean to imply that we service personnel fighting against Saddam Hussein’s regime were murderers. I take them at their word. I consider the murder reference in their statement to be a case of a poor choice of words made in a time of high emotion.
He then suggests that if all of our bishops condemn a future war, we should heed to their pastoral guidance: “It would be our duty to ‘obey God rather than man’ and suffer the consequences.” Thus, he gives some moral weight to the OPF statement since it was signed and approved by many Orthodox bishops. He also suggests, “Orthodox proponents of the Iraqi war should note the widespread opposition to the war expressed by Orthodox hierarchs and synods overseas…and consider if there is a moral side to the conflict that others see but they do not.”
Fr. John explains how he grew up “embracing the Just War Theory,” also noting that his service as a soldier and chaplain long preceded his being an Orthodox priest. Having studied the Orthodox tradition, however, he has learned three things: (1) The East’s approach to war is not systematized; (2) The East has always given priority to peace over warfare, while the West has viewed war as a positive good in the past, and (3) the East has frequently deferred more to secular authorities in matters of war. Thus, he writes, “My embrace of Orthodoxy has influenced my views on warfare…. Orthodoxy’s preference for peace has also sharply curtailed my comfort with casual combat. It has also made me respect those Orthodox individuals, and organizations like OPF, who also advocate for peace, even if I disagree with them at times.” He also admits that his support for the war has waned since he was first deployed.
Discussing what should be the proper relationship between the government and the Church, he remarks that the ideal for Christians past was that the “Crown and the Mitre acted in symphaniea, in cooperation to strengthen Christendom.” But after the ages of Constantinople and the Czars, the leaders of the Church have had to influence their societies from outside the political sphere. Now, living in a democratic society, he says, the Church is faced with a new challenge; now they must be “‘salt and light’” to millions of miniature decision makers, instead of merely to the one who wears the crown.” Because of such a situation, “the Church may have to exercise a greater prophetic role than before, and be prepared to criticize conflicts that they deem immoral. Moreover, the Church may have to exercise such a prophetic role through mass appeal since, in democracies, it is in the masses that ultimate political choice rests.” This, he notes, remains the reason why American Orthodoxy has a plurality of viewpoints in the present situation: It has a plurality of decision-makers.
Concerning the question about the conservative/liberal split (see question 5 in Appendix 3), he remains uncertain if Orthodox Church members will become more identified with the right or left: There are problems with being identified with either. He mentions problems on the liberal end of the spectrum, such as abortion, and says conservatives, it seems, “‘never met a war they didn’t like….’ The right has fairly little concern for the morality of the war’s purpose, or take serious account of the human costs involved.” Whatever may happen to Orthodoxy in this county, the one thing he does hope is that Orthodox Americans will never become ” like was once said of the Church of England, ‘the Tories at prayer.’”
Further Investigations and Conclusions
As I stated at the beginning of my essay, I never intended for this project to be a comprehensive study of Orthodox American reactions to the war. I did not intend to gather statistics or make any conclusions as to the characteristics of the Orthodox Americans who did or did not support the war — precisely the reason this topic remains open to further investigation. As Fr. Reardon noted above, a formal survey complete with statistics that has been conducted with other religious groups has yet to be done among Orthodox Americans. Undoubtedly, the results of such a survey will prove fruitful.
In this project, nevertheless, I simply desired to gather opinions from Orthodox Americans about their views on the recent war, namely centered on the OPF statement and subsequent responses, but I had other intentions as well. As my survey questions show, I intended to briefly explore whether or not the divergent opinions toward Iraq was evidence of a conservative/liberal split among Orthodox Americans. Having studied recent Protestant American history and the harm that the conservative/liberal split began to cause to their churches in the early twentieth century, and the harm that it continues to cause, I wanted to see whether this split was evident within American Orthodoxy. The rhetoric of the conservative/liberal debate was prevalent in a few statements about the war. For example, some Orthodox Americans accused the OPF of using theological arguments derived from liberal Protestant theology, and antiwar Orthodox Americans accused those who supported the war of laying down their faith in the face of conservative political ideologies. Nevertheless, I was grateful to discover that there is yet to be a conservative/liberal split among Orthodox Americans to the degree that is found among Protestant Americans (in many responses, people wondered why I even asked such a question). However, I continue to believe that this danger lies ahead as Orthodoxy becomes increasingly linked to the sociopolitical facets of American life. Fr. John’s concluding remarks about this potential political split highlight the focus that Orthodox Americans must keep in the years to come:
These two political poles bracket the range of choices available to Orthodox Christians in democracies. To me, the most important thing is for all Orthodox to keep their focus on following Jesus Christ within His Church. We must not let our political ideologies become idols, which replace our highest allegiance. We must let the Gospel continuously critique us and whatever political philosophies we hold. We must listen to our hierarchs when they speak on the ethics of any war. When voting or publicly advocating for or against a war, we must strive to fulfill all three injunctions of the Prophet Micah, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Erickson, John. “An Orthodox Peace Witness?” In
The Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peace Making, 48-58. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
Webster, Alexander. “Justifiable War as a ‘Lesser Good’ in Eastern Orthodox Moral Tradition.”
SVTQ 47 (November 1 2003): 3-57.
For the Peace from Above, a Syndesmos publication dealing with war and nationalism, available at the OPF website.
Born in Casper, Wyoming to Lebanese parents, Michael Azar spend much of his childhood in Cairo, Egypt. In May 2003, he graduated with a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Colorado Christian University in Denver, after having spent a semester reading theology and history at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Oxford University. Currently, he is pursuing an M.A. in General Theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. His paper was originally written as a study project.